Eco Anxiety: Finding Hope in Hopelessness

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Our Precious Earth

I was reading an interesting article last week on Eco Anxiety and how it is being felt by Generation Z. I have been curious to read an article like this one given the dire circumstances our environment is in these days. As school-aged children take in the news, I have been curious as to how they are dealing with the news and what it all may mean for their future on Earth.

The term eco-anxiety was new to me, but it also seems to capture the concern well. It’s a term coined and defined as “chronic fear of environmental doom.” With wildfires burning out of control, hurricanes destroying major cities on a regular basis, mass migration of people across the globe for political reasons, news headlines of starving wildlife, and the UN putting out reports that humans have 12 years to solve the crisis or we are all doomed, I can see why younger generations are feeling anxiety. What is their future going to look like if there is no planet to sustain them?

The article discusses in some depth how parents, teachers, and other adults can offer hope to the youth even when all of the news and statistics point to hopelessness. How does one manage her eco-anxiety?

It seems one of the best ways to help youth allay their alarmist fears is to talk about the environment in an open and honest manner. And to keep talking. Looking at the issue from a historical lens on how we got here and preparing them to critically think about ways to approach the environmental crisis differently than past generations. There is hope because they are young and have an opportunity to bring new ideas to the situation.

Still, managing eco-anxiety is something that all of us need to engage in. Even if we are middle to old age people, the planet is where we all live and her well-being parallels our own. So, instead of swinging from catastrophe to denying that there is a problem, finding a “middle space” where one can weigh up the issue and think through solutions on personal, communal, and societal levels seems to be a place of healthy management for one’s eco-anxiety.

I found it interesting to read in this article how young people feel resistant to having to take it on at all — that older generations should be the ones protecting them and the planet. They have homework to do, dates to make, sports to play, and colleges to apply for. Why should they have to be the ones to be bothered? Good question.

Being a member of Generation X, I can say, when I was young, I also wanted to enjoy my youth and time as a teen. When I say that no one worried about the environment back then, I really mean it. Recycling came in to the suburban neighborhoods sometime in the 80s and most people didn’t even engage in it too much. It was slow to dawn on any of us that we needed to stop using plastic, recycle, conserve resources, and more. Am I proud of this? No. Is this the same tug and pull Generation Z is feeling – yes. They too want the luxury of burying their heads in the sand and living life without these environmental cares.

And now time is running out. If some generation does not care, it is going to be too late. Still, balancing one’s own life with the greater concerns seems to be the way to manage eco-anxiety. Otherwise, Generation Z will become like all of the generations before — except the planet may not be able to sustain it.

The end of the article, a parent hugs her child and apologizes to her — apologizes for not having done something more to solve the crisis. I am not sure anyone needs to apologize, rather we need to dialogue honestly and work together to preserve our planet and maintain its health. Eco-anxiety will paralyze us into denial and overwhelm. Planet Earth will be more harmed by this more than anything else.

We are the hope.

Vandalism at the Cathedral

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St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral is my church home in Seattle, WA. With a strong mission surrounding social justice in our immediate community and beyond, St. Mark’s serves all, members of its congregation and everyone else. And I do meant everyone else. It is a welcoming place for every single person in our community – whether a believer or not.

How rare to find such a place today, particularly one that is associated with a religious denomination. But we have it right here in Seattle.

That is why my heart has been saddened by the senseless vandalism of its beautiful cathedral recently. Yes, this is what was written on the Cathedral outdoor walls. I can’t make sense of who would do such a thing – but there are many random, awful events happening in America and all the world over today. I guess it has always been happening, but with our cameras on hand and everyone sharing across social media, it’s not easy to hide these horrific acts of violence.

Luckily, it was just the church building – so much worse has happened in churches across America recently.

What do you make of it all? Does it stress you out to see such violence brought against a loving organization that serves the community? How do you make sense of these seemingly small acts of terror taking place each day?

For me, I find it necessary to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open. However, I often want to close it out and not look. How much easier would life be if I didn’t have to engage in seeing what is happening. It is easy for me to understand people checking out. It is hard to stay in.

Second, I look to the leaders for uplifting thoughts and meaning-making of these incidents so I can call myself to see what I may not be able to from the surface. Dean Thomason has done exactly this with his statement regarding the vandalism.

Finally, I take heart that I am not alone in my outrage and that there are many people who feel as I do. I am not in the minority, and together there is strength to overcome.

Still, there it is. The ugly writing on the Cathedral wall. We will wash it away having acknowledged it was there, but what next?

To that question, I have no answer.

Dear Therapist: Political Exhaustion

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Political Exhaustion

Dear Therapist:

I am exhausted! After years of political turmoil in this country, I can’t stand it any longer. I feel anxious, concerned, and worried. Further, I am tired of arguing with my neighbors. It used to be we could all get along, but those days seem long past. How do I handle what seems to be a never-ending world of political strife and turmoil that overwhelms me on a daily basis. Help!

Wow! Your question hits home I am sure for many people. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the discourse of what is happening along with the events unfolding each day across a wide range of global concerns is enough to want to simply close your door, pull the covers over your head, and check out!

If you are feeling this way you are dealing with political exhaustion.

Of course, this is understandable:

  • You read the paper and find yourself bombarded with news headlines that are troubling
  • There is the realization that you are only one person and the question comes to mind, “what can one person do about any of it anyway?’
  • You are on social media and there are requests for your money and time to support causes and show up to one more rally
  • You listen to the news and the political talk heads speak your language and incites more concern and worry
  • You bring up a topic or contribute to a conversation with your neighbor and all of a sudden you find yourself in a hot argument because the other is never going to see the world as you do – not interested
  • You try to refresh yourself in nature and your mind is plagued wondering if the animals and trees and fresh air will be around for your kids and grandkids

How can one continue to stay engaged without drowning in exhaustion? After all, you are only one person.

I think it is important to be honest with yourself and be true to yourself. If you are feeling exhausted, disinterested, lethargic toward all of these cares, then it is time to change up one’s routine and ways of interacting with our current political construct.

Mainly this involves holding boundaries around where you will and will not put your time and energy into and prioritizing putting time into yourself and your care. There is no fight without the people and so taking care of one’s self is one of the most critical ways to keep up the fight.

There is no shame in taking a break and refueling yourself. Here are some helpful tips to treat your political exhaustion:

  • Go on a news diet and limit how much you read and watch in a day
  • Say no to events for awhile and, when you feel ready, be discerning about what you choose to say yes to
  • Sleep
  • Self Care — whatever you do to care for yourself, do more
  • Let go of the guilt of stepping back – the struggle will still be there with you either exhausted or refreshed
  • Choose to spend time “doing good” – most likely the flow of doing something good for yourself, another, your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family will recharge you in a way that is not depleting, but fulfilling

It is inevitable to become politically exhausted. This is not a short, quick battle, but a long grind that all of us must contend with each day. We are running a marathon not a sprint. Take care of you and let go of the rest while you need and want to.

The Long Rope of Restlessness

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Roping in One’s Restlessness

All of us experience some level of anxiety. It’s normal. We are humans and we worry about a whole host of things – real and imagined in our minds. Most of what we are anxious over is never going to come to pass. Alternatively, it can definitely be something that is going to happen in a matter of time. Either way, how to calm one’s anxious mind amidst these stormy seas?

I have always been drawn to taking a few moments and picturing a thick, long piece of rope – sort of like the one in the picture in this post. In my mind, though, the rope is one long strand. I think about all of my worries and concerns and as I do in my mind I picture myself picking up one end of this heavy mental rope with my two hands.

I find it is hard to pick up the rope, but I struggle and pick it up. From there, I pull the rope in to myself — literally “roping in my restlessness.” As i pull it in to myself, I picture all of the knots and knobs of my worries and concerns related to whatever I am feeling anxious about.

I continue to pull the rope in to myself until I have none left, i.e. all of my concerns, cares, worries have been pulled in and gathered up. My restlessness regarding the matter is contained within me and to a large degree settled as I have faced all of the matter and pulled it in so that it does not have me flinging around in my mind making my life overwrought with anxiety, but rather I have allowed myself time to reflect, give time to the whole of the matter, and contain it within me.

All the while, I remind myself all of this will come to fruition and pass one way or another. After this little meditation, I am often able to move my mind and day on to other things that are no longer hampered by my anxious state.

Rope in your restlessness and calm your anxious mind.

Holiday Anxiety

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Tis the Season to be Anxious

Well, it’s two days before Christmas – if this is the “most wonderful time of the year” then this day, this week, should be the happiest two days ever, So, why is it when I look around or talk with people, everyone is stressed out?

  • Could it be the long “to do” list with not enough time to get it all done?
  • Could it be other people’s expectations of what they want you to do for them to make it all happy?
  • Could it be that you feel pressure to deliver up the best holiday ever for your kids, given these are the memories they will hold with them forever?

It seems like all of these “two days before the big day” stressors have to do with other people rather than ourselves. If we were doing the holiday our way, who knows if any of these fears and pressures would play a role for any of us? Perhaps then it would be the happiest days of the years.

This season strikes me as one full of having to make the other happy rather than ourselves. To think about ourselves two days before the holiday is downright selfish and people will even say as much.

And, yet, what is selfish about remaining true to yourself during the season? I wonder if that is on anyone’s list this year? Have you noticed when someone says they are taking care of themselves and not doing much for others this year, how it is sort of frowned upon or, on the other end of the spectrum, envied by those who want to do this as well.

Before you strike one more thing off of your to do list, I would like to suggest you add one. To create the holiday that is good for you in at least one significant way. Perhaps it is letting the to do list go, perhaps it’s calling it good with what you have created to date for your kids, or could it be that you let go of meeting others’ expectations of you and meet your own?

Choose any one of these options and my guess is some of your holiday anxiety will alleviate just for being comfortable in your own choices this season and letting others carry their hopes and expectations for themselves.

May peace be with you as this holiday week unfolds for you.